Tag - food

Oaxaca Restaurant Fuses Tradition, Barbecue Ribs

    Mexican food

Mexican food

Oaxaca restaurant El Bichón serves typical Oaxacan, Mexico regional cuisine. But the barbecued pork back ribs draw locals out of downtown to dine there.

When one thinks of Mexican food, the last thing which comes to mind is barbequed ribs, especially in Oaxaca, the southern Mexico city with a reputation for culinary seduction. But for decades Comedor Familiar El
Bichón Restaurante has been serving good old fashioned American style pork back ribs right off the grill, along with traditional Oaxacan foods such as tasajo and cecina (grilled beef and pork respectively), memelitas, mole and more.

Despite its location in a non-touristy residential / commercial sector of Oaxaca just outside of Oaxaca’s quaint downtown core, on a recent Sunday visit El Bichón, a relatively large Oaxacan restaurant, was jam packed during Oaxacan comida hours (2-5 p.m., more or less); not with tourists to this Mexican Mecca for mouth-watering cuisine, but rather locals out with the family for Sunday brunch Oaxaca style.

Décor of El Bichón Restaurant in Oaxaca, Mexico Deceives; or Does It?

Functional, typical and homey best describes the décor at Oaxaca’s El Bichón. High terra cotta colored walls, pillars and floor are accented with deep blue trim. Purple patterned Oaxacan-made tablecloths are covered with clear plastic. Chairs are 70’s chrome and pine.

Oaxacans come to El Bichón to eat well and drink cheap in a comfortable familiar setting, not to be wooed by the ambiance of high end fusion restaurants in the city. It’s not that these particular Mexican diners cannot afford the likes of Los Danzantes, Casa Oaxaca and La Pitiona, since they have the resources to frequent whatever Oaxacan restaurant they choose. Sometimes families just want to enjoy their food without formality and pretext.

The Main Meal Attractions at El Bichón Oaxacan Restaurant

After taking your drink order (beer at 18 pesos is the best bargain in town; the house mezcal is particularly smooth and fills the glass to the brim), your server arrives with complimentary starters. On this afternoon they consisted of shrimp bisque and a plate of memelas and tostadas topped with beans and Oaxacan crumbly queso.

For a formal appetizer consider the mixed botana plate, but be forewarned that portions in general are large, and this menu selection, “botana surtida” (mixed appetizer) is no different. For two, order for one. The price may seem steep at 80 pesos per person, but once you see the size you’ll get the picture. The plate is comprised of quesillo (Oaxacan string cheese), meaty fried riblets, chicharrón (friend pork crackling) and tasajo, garnished with sliced cucumber and tomato. Chapulines, fried grasshoppers, at least for this visit were conspicuously absent.

Most main meat courses include rice and a selection of fresh and steamed vegetables. While the broccoli was overcooked, in Oaxaca it’s typical and acceptable. Moles are available, but as custom dictates do not include the sides, except of course for tortillas. In any event it’s better to stick to specialties, the meats.

Barbacoa de borrego is sheep cooked in an in- ground oven. Order it if you’ve never tried it. But the term barbacoa is a misnomer by American and Canadian standards. In Oaxaca it signifies more of a flavoring (barbacoa de pollo is chicken stewed with tomato and seasoned with avocado leaf and other herbs and spices) or in the case of borrego or chivo (goat), a cooking style. Carnes asadas (grilled meats), on the other hand, are prepared more akin to northern BBQ methods.

While the serving of tasajo spills over the edges of the plate and the flavor is distinctly charcoal, it’s the barbeque back ribs that make El Bichón unique for Oaxaca. They’re known as costillas asadas (grilled ribs). An encounter with pork ribs on the grill is truly a treat – for tourists less than enamored with traditional Oaxacan food and spicing, expats yearning for a bit of back-home, and of course Oaxacans whose palates have been primed. Think of your best local rib restaurant, and El Bichón will scratch the itch.

Comedor Familiar El Bichón Restaurante in Oaxaca, Mexico

El BIchón is located at Plan de Ayala 305, just south of downtown Oaxaca in the Cinco Señores neighborhood. It’s open Tuesday through Sunday, 1-6 p.m. If your stomach is still operating on a northern timetable, make it a late lunch.

An African Safari, Conclusion

Africa is easy to travel in. People are friendly, roads sometimes difficult but passable if you stay on the main road. The greatest obstacle was the bureaucracy. Visas, customs hassles, some regulations seemingly designed to frustrate you. Officials laboriously writing down all your details, including parents’ names, dates and places of birth, in not one, not two but in three dossiers what obviously will never be read by anyone.

 Fresh fish in Cameroon

Fresh fish in Cameroon

In some countries we easily received tourist visas valid for a month, but temporary import visas for our vehicles valid for only two or three days.

Food was easily available; after all, the people who live there also eat! Sometimes their tastes differ, but hey, that is what adventure is all about! The most memorable meal was at a ‘restaurant’ of planks, on the beach in Cameroon, with fish caught an hour before, and roasted on the coals just next to us.

And the people. All along the way, we met new friends who wanted to share our experiences, welcome us into their homes, and hear our stories!

Restaurant review – Papa’s and Beer, Asheville area, NC

Papa's and Beer, Cr-tripadvisor

Papa’s and Beer, Cr-tripadvisor

Whether wedged in a row of shops in a small plaza or tucked away off a back road somewhere, all of the Asheville, NC area Papa’s and Beer restaurants have something in common – they are bigger on the inside than they appear on the outside, and you want to get there a little in advance, because (a) it may take some maneuvering to get into some of their parking lots (the one on route 25 is a parking lot in name only – it’s little more than a paved driveway) and (b) they are always full. Although, in retrospect, a bit of a wait won’t be all that bad, because you really want to get to your meal as hungry as humanly possible.

Prepare to engage all your senses. There is some great artwork on the walls, lots of Latin dance music, people at the tables laughing and swapping plates, sizzling skillets with fajita chicken and onions zooming by, rushed by the waiters from the stove straight to the table, and, of course, the delicious smell of various foods that immediately sends you drooling like an English mastiff.

Once you have your table and drinks, it’s off to the dips and salsas station – just get one of each. By the time you get back, a basket of fresh hot tortilla chips awaits, and it’s all the more fun to try them with the different condiments. The chips are made right there at the restaurant, and some bits are more salty than others, but they are delicious and addictive. You are bound to be well into your second basket by the time your meal arrives.

Papa’s and Beer is the kind of place you want to go to on a regular basis. The menu is large and you want to eventually try everything. However, the portions are very generous, so it’s not really possible to sample more than one thing at a time, especially if you also have one of their enormous margaritas and a deep fried ice cream dessert. If for some reason you can’t come back any time soon, go with a group of friends, and order several different things. Then try a bit of everything, mix and match.

My personal favorite is fish tacos. A word of warning – they are incredibly messy. There is invariably more fish (and other stuffings) than there is taco. So, stuff is going to fall out, dribble and run down your chin. Don’t tuck into them right away – they are wicked hot, and you will only end up dropping your taco back onto your plate and making an even bigger mess, because it is bound to land right in the middle of the rice and beans and all the other fixings that come with the tacos. It’s not that the messy factor detracts from the food. Just grab more napkins and keep going.

Not surprisingly, the place is very popular with families, including those with young children. You can eat with your hands and get stuff all over your face and fingers, and it’s unclear who enjoys the experience more – the adults or some of the younger patrons. An added bonus for a family is the price – a dinner for two fits easily into the $20 margin. Definitely a keeper!

Restaurant review – Bistro La Bon, Charlotte, NC

Bistro La Bon, Charlotte, NC,cr-charlottemagazine.com

Bistro La Bon, Charlotte,cr-charlottemagazine.com

Never in a million years would you expect to find an exquisite French restaurant in an inner city neighborhood, wedged between a pawn shop and a tattoo parlor.  And yet, it does exist. The owners of Charlotte’s Bistro La Bon took a considerable risk by opening their high-end establishment in one of the city’s revitalized neighborhoods… well before it was revitalized. But the gamble paid off, and the parking lot is full every night. Friday through Sunday patrons often have to park across the street, but that does not deter anyone.

Some restaurants attract with the quality of their food. Some might have ok food but fabulous service. Some feature art by local talent. Yet others become a gathering place for an interesting eclectic crowd. In the case of La Bon, it is not any one thing. Rather, it is a conglomeration of factors, woven seamlessly together for one incredible dining experience. The decor is chic and understated.  The hostesses and waiters treat you like a frequent and welcome guest, even if it is your first time at the place.

The food is to die for and perfectly portioned, making it possible to try several different things and still leave room for dessert. And let us not forget the superb wine collection. If you are not sure what to order and what to drink with it, someone is always on hand to make recommendations.

I don’t know about you, but I always love it when my waiter says, “And that one right there is my favorite. The chef added something new to it last week and I had a chance to sample it – I seriously suggest you do too.” I love it almost as much as seeing people who work at a restaurant and clearly love their jobs, and people who work at La Bon leave you with no doubt – they love what they do, and they want to make damn certain that you come back and bring your friends.

Restaurant review – Dim Sum in Charlotte, NC

Dim Sum in Charlotte, NC

Dim Sum in Charlotte, NC

Sometimes the best food is found in the most unassuming of surroundings. One of my favorite places to eat in my former hometown of Kings Mountain, NC was a tiny Chinese restaurant located in a terrible neighborhood where I had to carry a stun gun to feel safe. The food, however, was so fantastic that I kept coming back for more at least every other week.

Dim Sum of Charlotte, North Carolina is very similar in that, it is located in a less-than-prosperous part of town on Central Avenue and its decor is virtually nonexistent. However, you know you are onto something, when you arrive for a late lunch on a Sunday, an the parking lot is packed. Not only that, but the place is frequented by Chinese Americans from all around Charlotte metro area and recommended as the spot to get your taste of real China.

You can eat in, you can take out, the prices are reasonable, the atmosphere is lively, and there is a little Asian market adjacent to the restaurant, if you want to take some Chinese delicacies home with you and experiment in your own kitchen. A word of advice – to get the most fun out of your Dim Sum experience, go with a group of friends. Sure, the restaurant has a traditional Chinese menu with the old trusted stand-bys like General Tso on Happy Family, but why would you want to go that route? You are there for dim sum. There is only so much you can eat, and the temptation, of course, is to try as many different things as possible. So, gather a bunch of four or five people, grab one of the big round tables, and knock yourselves out.

The process is simple. Every table gets a little yellow card with numbers. Every few minutes, one of the friendly Dim Sum servers pushes by a cart loaded with up to ten different varieties of foods. I counted about four different carts. You ask the server to pause, check out what that particular cart has to offer and pick the dishes (little plates or metal pots) for your table. The server marks on the card, how many you took and from which cart and moves on. At checkout, the cashier simply adds up the number of dishes you’ve had and tallies it up.

Shrimp dumplings, fried seafood and bacon rolls, spicy seaweed and watercress salad, pot stickers, super-delicious melt-in-your-mouth juicy pork – the list goes on and on. The customer turnover at Dim Sum is quite expeditious (as is the rest of the operation), but do pray for a short wait, for newcomers’ appetites a bound to be boosted further by the tantalizing smells from the food-laden carts and by watching people at other tables having fun swapping dishes and sharing their impressions. Happy eats!


For book and game reviews from Maria K. visit her YouTube channel Ms. Review Central.